When I started making visual art, like most kids I began making figurative, representational work. I got rather good at it -- probably because I did it obsessively. But after a while it became clear that there were certain things that visual artists do that have predictable results: drawing with lines, for example, is often useful in depicting the shape of an object, and painting a background green can make a red object pop out. These sorts of tricks, or "lies" as Picasso called them, are what making art is all about. It turns out that our visual systems are constantly simplifying the world around us, too. But in the case of the visual system this is because it is impossible to communicate everything about the visual world to the brain because the optic tract is so narrow. So our visual systems extract what have turned out to be ecologically relevant cues -- like edges and contrast -- and don't bother with all the other stuff -- like gradual changes in illumination or absolute levels of illumination.
Artists learn how to perform an analogous task: to extract and represent what they consider to be relevant pieces of their conceptual and visual worlds. In my lastest body of artwork -- the GB Series -- I define a set of conceptual rules on which I base the construction of a cube, which I make out of glass and silk. These rules are based on, or at the very least inspired by, my understanding of the physiological basis for visual perception and the neuroscientific research I have done. This body of artwork is an extension of minimalism -- biulding on the traditions established by Sol Lewitt, Eva Hesse, Donald Judd, Fred Sandbeck, Agnes Martin and James Turrell. But instead of thinking of minimalism as a product of repetition of a simple set of rules, I am interested in the subtle and un-avoidable variability that arises not just in the execution of a set of rules but in the realization of something previously only visualized. This variability is the fingerprint of the hand-made, and is underscored by the minimalist context I use. It is restraint pitted against chaos and I think it lends itself well to my ultimate artistic goal, which is to make something beautiful, something interesting and something that can sustain extended viewing and extended questioning. What is the difference in impact, in how we feel about or expect we will feel about something "pictured in the mind's eye", something imagined, versus something physical, solid and real? How, or indeed can we even predict how these things are related to each other?
The very fact we can ask this question is precisely why art is not and will never be dead. It is in fact, the basis for a new artistic tradition. Humans have evolved an enormous visual and cognitive cortex dedicated to exploiting irregularities in our visual and conceptual worlds. These irregularities will never cease; and we will never cease deriving enjoyment from tackling them. The upshot of this philosophical rambling is simple: it is and will probably always be important to actually make art. And we might never have an adequate reason why this is so.
The GB Series is therefore related conceptually to my earlier work, and to my current paintings and etchings, despite the fact that the artistic tradition to which the GB Series belongs appears on first pass to be so different. My early work is about exploring, establishing and testing rules of representation; this body of work is about questioning those rules.
Finally, all of my art is inextricably tied to the kind of neuroscience I do. The rules employed by artists have a strong basis in neural hardware, and I am fascinated by how we can use our understanding of the brain in order to understand the choices artists make. The empirical information developed by artists has, after all, been extremely useful to neuroscientists in understanding how the brain works. Why then shouldn't artists gain from the progress of science?
images of more glass boxes